Category Archives: selling luxury

Genuine Luxury vs Accessible Luxury: Two Distinct Yet Opposing Categories

By James D. Roumeliotis

Mass - Masstige - Prestige

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“Masstige” (a combination of two words: “mass” and “prestige” – aka mass with class) is a contemporary marketing term which denotes prestige for products perceived as luxurious and targeted to a wide range of customers known as the “mass affluent.” As per Wikipedia, the mass affluent are the high end of the mass market, or individuals with US$100,000 to US$1,000,000 of liquid financial assets, or consumers with an annual household income over US$75,000. These upper middle class individuals can afford to splurge on some of the finer (and affordable) things in life which include fashion merchandise, sporting goods, cosmetics, various accessories (silk ties, scarfs, small leather goods, perfumes etc.), high-end consumer electronics/gadgets, as well as culinary food and spirits. Brands in those categories depend on the “masstige” crowd for a majority of their sales, despite a few which also happen to be purveyors of inaccessibly priced products catered to the HNWI/UHNWI (aka the very wealthy or the 1% respectively).

This is purely an oxymoron and paradoxical since in the authentic luxury domain, “mass prestige” is an artificial term for “luxury” as it is not generally geared for the mass but rather the well heeled. Sadly, the true meaning of “luxury” has been bastardized by many brands who are falsely in the “luxury” business (in the true sense of the word and definition). ​However, there are luxury brands which have chosen to offer lowered priced products in a bid to join the “accessible luxury.” Think Coach with its leather bags and accessories or Chanel with its perfumes and cosmetics.

Defining the true meaning of the term “luxury”

Definitions of “luxury” vary significantly and depend on with whom you discuss the topic and in what context. The term “luxury” is not the easiest to define. It is relative, mysterious and elusive. In essence, it revolves around subjective criteria in the mind, which creates a mood and what is generally referred to today as lifestyle.

Gary Harwood at HKLM, one of the founders and directors of a leading strategic branding and communication design consultancy, stated:

A luxury brand is very expensive, exclusive and very rare – not meant for everyone. When it ceases to be these things, then it’s lost its exclusive cachet. Commoditizing luxury brands and making them more accessible to the middle market puts them at risk of becoming ordinary, common and less desirable. And the more available a brand is, the less luxurious it becomes.”

Authentic luxury brands compete on the basis of their ability to invoke exclusivity, prestige and hedonism to their appropriate market segments not the masses. There is a classic litmus test as follows:

  • Is the product manufactured in artificially limited quantities? (i.e. the rarity factor)
  • Does the firm have a story to tell? (i.e. history & pedigree)
  • Is the firm portraying a unique lifestyle? (i.e. the product or service will enhance one’s experience through an exceptional appeal)
  • Is craftsmanship the hallmark, which delivers products that only High Net Worth individuals (HNWI/UHNWI) can purchase without question?
  • Does the brand offer authenticity?

Genuine luxury purveyors remain relatively small and select in their category. Ultra wealthy (UHNWI) consumers purchase rare luxury products because they seek to distance themselves from the mass through the emotional value of acquiring flawless and rare objects of desire.

“Aspirational” luxury, on the other hand, is another fancy marketing parlance which is generally defined as a brand that most want but only a fraction of them can actually afford it. Most cannot afford a $2000 bottle of vintage wine but may be able to occasionally splurge on a $200 bottle of one of the finest single malt Whiskey.

Identifying luxury sectors

Genuine Luxury is classically defined in three key segments:

1) Luxury Goods: Fashion & Accessories, Watches & Jewelry, Well-being & Beauty products.

2) Lifestyle Purchases: Automotive, Experiential Travel, Home & Interiors, Exclusive Alcoholic beverages (exceptional wines, champagne & spirits)

3) Private/Executive Jets and Yachts: An absolute category in their own right.

Brands which fittingly claim authentic luxury status

Few brands can really claim the trademark of luxury. It is those which combine allure with pedigree and quality attributes. Discounting is not part of their strategy and their entire raison d’être is geared to the UHNW (Ultra High Net Worth). Many of their products actually increase in value over time since they are either discontinued or necessitate a long waiting list/time.

Most notable authentic luxury brands are in the haute merchandise category:

Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, Rolex and Cartier.

Other players to this core list include: Bentley, Rolls Royce, Gucci, E. Goyard, Charvet, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Bulgari.

Exclusive and bespoke travel companies provide tailor made adventures and excursions. The four key players in this category include: Abercrombie & Kent, Kuoni, Orient-Express and Cunard Line.

Broadening our view of luxury services, certain firms offer services and privileges to a rare percentile. Such services include credit cards with no limits, jet ownership, private plan charters, global concierge services and the like. Think NetJets and Amex.

“Accessible” luxury is a marketing notion, not a merchandise category

The concept of making luxury available to the masses goes against what true luxury is as
there is no such thing as accessible luxury ─ it is either luxury or it is not as “accessible” luxury is a marketing notion and not any product category. Think Michael Kors, Coach, Ralph Lauren, Godiva and Apple among others. Top luxury brands such as Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Chanel have accessible luxury with perfumes and cosmetics, sunglasses, as well as accessories (leather, silk scarfs etc.).

In marketing parlance, being coined as an “accessible” luxury good can be deceiving when the quality of materials is not quite at par as one would normally find in a “genuine” luxury product. For such companies, becoming too commonplace is a risk for such brands as they lose their cache due to a lesser price line, as well as risk their reputation for the sake of increasing their revenues. Then there are some non-luxury brands which use the codes of luxury strategy to grow their sales. Needless to say, many consumers will eventually catch-on that such products are merely a gimmick thus on their way to lose their luster.

Masstige - My other bag is a Birkin

“Premium” and “prestige” categories defined

If luxury brands are related to scarcity, quality and storytelling then premium goods, on the other hand, are expensive variants of commodities in general: i.e. pay more, get more.

These brands are less ostentatious, more rational, accessible, modern, best in class, sleek design, and manufactured with precision. Beats headphones and TAG Heuer watches are a case in point and so is Audi and Lexus in automobiles.

“Luxury” and “prestige” brands respectively both have a similar status. Although some may disagree, in some cases, brands such as Mercedes-Benz automobiles, are considered to be both “luxury” and “prestige.” There are also brands which are either labelled one or the other. It depends how they are identified in the eyes of consumers.

Prestige brands offer a high level of innovation, craftsmanship ─ and with some categories, the finest ingredients or raw materials. Due to their well-established names, status and pedigree, they boast quite a loyal following. As a result, they can command premium prices which their clients do not mind paying for since they are made to feel special. Examples of some prestige brands include Breitling watches, Lancome cosmetics and Aston Martin automobiles.

The distinction between a prestige brand and premium brand is simply one of perception. In automobiles it is Cadillac and Lexus vs their German counterpart of BMW and Audi. In watches, it is perhaps a Rolex versus a Breguet and a Cartier.

On a final note

When it comes to lower priced supposed “luxury” products for the affluent masses, they are essentially “premium” products ─ otherwise known as “masstige.” The brands succeed at creating fancy designs and utilize expensive looking material to make their products appear very expensive which are then sold at a fraction of the price compared to genuine luxury brands in the same product category. Add clever window dressing and marketing and the result is that those products become affordable objects of desire. Unlike authentic luxury brands which are manufactured at their country of origin (mainly Italy, France or the U.K.), they are outsourced to low labour cost factories in Asia or Turkey. Despite this, they are given a premium markup which is intentionally done to create an aura of high value.

As long as there is a big demand for massitige products that its target market can afford and make them part of their social status and lifestyle, the category will be around indefinitely.

As a final point worth mentioning, at this day and age, there are luxury branding experts who claim that there are actually four categories of luxury: Old, New, Eco and Indie as exhibited in the following table (credit: David Sherwin). This translates into additional choices ─ categories to satisfy most desires.

Four Types of Luxury Chart

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Exploring the Luxury British Automotive Total Customer Experience: Part 2 ‒ Jaguar Cars

Jaguar Lifestyle Image

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis and Petrona J. Joseph

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In part 1 of this 4 part series, the Aston Martin automotive brand was the star focus. In this part, the spotlight is on the customer expectations with the British luxury automaker Jaguar Motors. For over 90 years, this high-status marque has pushed the boundaries of what was once considered impossible in the automotive industry.

Sir William Lyons – founder of Jaguar Motors, combined performance and beauty in the designs and manufacturing of the ‘Jag’. A feat unprecedented of his time, his uncompromising vision set new benchmarks which is still followed by the manufacturer until today. Despite a tumultuous period during the Ford Motor Company ownership, its present owner (the Tata industrial conglomerate based in India) has invigorated a new model lineup together with a bold marketing strategy through a substantial cash infusion. It also acquired, from Ford, the Land Rover luxury SUV brand.

With the big news of Jaguar’s upcoming justDrive™ ‒ an industry-leading app technology that integrates multiple smartphone apps into a single, voice-activated in-car experience; it is now a leading contender amongst its competitors.

Jaguar Interior

The Jaguar driver profile

The Jaguar customer is typically a refined man or woman – for the most part, a university graduate with a dynamic presence, and status symbol visible. Moreover, the Jaguar driver can be classified on some levels to the “blue temperament” – which is an analytical, prudent, detail-oriented and precise personality. In serving a Jaguar customer, one must not sway into personal details on the onset. In addition, the sales consultants have been trained to not ask many open-ended questions but rather ask close-ended questions and listen attentively. I also suggest note-taking, because the majority of Jaguar drivers (most in Executive positions) do not like to repeat themselves. By taking notes, one demonstrates the prospective Jaguar owner that you are unconsciously like them by mirroring their behavior.

Following is an outline on how authorized Jaguar dealers respond to customers – from Sales to Service.

Initial Sales Consultation

– Greeted promptly by the receptionist

– The sales consultant must greet the potential Jaguar consumer with the appropriate handshake (particularly the dominant handshake)

– Ask close-ended questions to ensure need and quality prospect.

– Initiate test drive

– Review objectives & listen to this customer clearly while note-taking

– Warning- there is a fine line between explain the benefits to this customer versus being aggressive in your approach. Allow this customer time to review the advantages of owning a Jaguar.

– An overnight test drive is quite rare, however during the test drive, outline the benefits of the drive and the technology.

Sales Process

Allow the appropriate time for this customer to choose options, colors and technology combinations. At this point, once trust and careful attention has been established- then proceed with open-ended questions.

Delivery

– Short and succinct (keeping in mind that this customer is discerning and either a professional practitioner, executive or a successful entrepreneur who may have to return to the office for an important meeting.

– The customer should be shown the basic functionality of his or her new Jaguar

– The customer should be asked to reschedule a one hour detailed information session at his/her place and time of convenience.

Jaguar Convertible

The automobile which reflects a luxury lifestyle

Premium and luxury car owners seek the total package with the car brand they choose to be loyal to as they would when checking in to a luxury resort. They seek more than just a vehicle they can enjoy from point A to B. In practice, its owner might use this automobile to commute to work, but this is not sole incentive. Jaguar is clearly a brand with authenticity and heritage. The principals shaping the consumer’s buyer behavior go beyond intention. There is a sense of engagement in fulfilling a dream. It can be to make a social status statement or a personal style choice. Whatever it is, it is not an unconscious choice. The codifiers are clear: This is who I am, and what I believe in. Ultimately, it can also articulate the owners’ sense of self-worth and their emotional aspirations. The most important emotional benefit is that a product of this caliber and class expresses itself when the consumer can declare: “It suits my lifestyle.”

Discreet and unconventional selling approach

Jaguar in North America is testing, in several major cities in the U.S., a novel way it presents new vehicles by showing appreciation to its most loyal customers, which it labels as “super-loyalists” by hosting elaborate receptions in their homes. In turn, the “super-loyalists” invite friends and associates who may be interested, and can afford, one of Jaguar’s elegant models. This idea takes away the perception of any high pressure sales normally associated with auto sales at dealerships.

Jaguar Classic Car

Dealers of prestigious auto brands as custodians of heritage

A luxury dealership’s ultimate goal is to make an entire ownership experience a pleasure ‒ let alone a Jaguar. They strive to build relationships, which is why so many of their clients remain loyal. A luxury dealership serves as a guardian for the rich heritage of their prestigious brands thus make certain to continue their legacy.

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Exploring the “Super Luxury” British Automotive Total Customer Experience: Part 1 ‒ The Aston Martin

Aston Martin Prestige Image

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis and Petrona J. Joseph

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When we encounter the word “luxury”, images of: seamlessness, awe, the rarity factor, cache, opulence, aristocracy, supreme workmanship, stellar service and reverence come to mind, amongst others

Now, close your eyes for a moment. What images come to mind when you consider mention of the following vehicles: Aston Martin, Jaguar, Bentley and Range Rover? That’s what we will be analyzing in this four part series of the luxury British automotive icons and the above average expectations of consumers seeking such extravagant motor vehicles.

What qualifies the authors to give such commentary? Having worked and served — most notably with prestigious brands such as Gucci, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Bentley and Range Rover, as well as with mega yachts and coupled with extensive research and consultations in this domain –, both can accurately define the exceptional treatment tendered to a HNWI (High Net Worth Individual) luxury seeking discerning consumer. Brands which qualify to serve this exclusive market provide attention to detail, a plethora of product knowledge/competence, and discretion along with an implementation of an anticipated flawless post-sale/follow-up policy.

Price aside, a luxury car brand should embody cache, exclusivity, pedigree, craftsmanship and limited production. R.L. Polk and Company, a global automotive information and marketing firm that provides solutions to automotive and related industries, has re-defined the term with the appellation, “super luxury”, ‒ i.e. cars that cost over $100K. This category includes brands such as Rolls Royce, Bentley, Maserati as well as the Aston Martin being featured here.

Aston Martin Showroom

Aston Martin: License to thrill

We begin with the initial luxury automotive brand in this four part series: Aston Martin. This high valued motor car producer brings images of James Bond, a ladies gent, British heritage, sophisticated technology, sex appeal, speed, agility and soul.

Considering the above persona, the makeup of a typical Aston Martin customer.is a male (no gender discrimination intended), in his late 30’s early 40’s, handsome, successful, possibly with an attractive spouse (or if single, a striking companion), possesses a deep knowledge of refined luxury, knows what he wants virtually at any price level, and enjoys adventure, as well as thrives at constant new challenges.

Initial impressions and consultative sales process

When a prospective owner, or existing customer of an Aston Martin walks into any impressive looking Aston Martin showroom, the total experience should normally result as follows:

– To be greeted initially by the attractive receptionist/hostess (brand ambassadors) by the owner or General Manager of the dealership;

– Introduce the prospective client to an Aston Martin specialist;

– Offer a hot or cold fine beverage;

– Be given a tour of the impressive premises;

– Exhibit the various models and a test drive initiated during which time rapport is being built;

– Offer of an overnight test drive to create the feel and experience of the automobile and its performance characteristics;

– Thank and greet the prospect by the dealership owner or GM upon returning the vehicle followed by the sales specialist;

– Customer’s contact information should be entered into the dealer database (CRM);

– If a sale is initiated – the sales process should ensue. However, if a sale does not occur, effort should be exerted in a discreet and pragmatic manner (consider “consultative” selling) to close the sale. Statistics show that 60% of car purchases have been consummated on the spot when they received what they considered was an excellent presentation and demonstration. Either way, a follow-up is imperative within 24 hours.

Sale & delivery

– An appointment should be set for delivery;

– Upon arrival to pick-up the vehicle, customer should be congratulated by owner and/or GM;

– Explanation of vehicle model should be thorough along with a post-sale follow-up the following day;

– Customer should be offered a token appreciation for his/her business. This can be in the form of champagne from a strategic partnership for example, Moët & Chandon and/or an additional gift in good taste.

Aston Martin Showroom Lounge

Exceeding customer expectations for the discerning client-driver

To succeed in gratifying the seemingly sophisticated client, a high-end organization should develop a comprehensive strategy along with efficient implementation tactics. These include:
– Having a clear and unique value proposition that hooks them;
– Consider exploiting the five senses to attract and retain them – categorized as “ambiance”/”sensorial” marketing and branding;
– Staff must be customer centric, patient, empathetic, and good listeners – remaining calm under duress during client interactions;
– Employee retention – hiring for attitude and training for skills;
– Utilizing a hands-on approach;
– Probing clients’ specific needs/requirements – recognizing their motivations – reading their body language;;
– Earning their trust and respect by exuding confidence, empathy and transparency;
– Offering a personal touch – individualized attention with customized solutions – It’s all about the customer;
– Being frank and transparent with pricing, offers, proposals and promotions;
– Proposing an expansive product selection and service options;
– Outstanding and consistent levels of customer service throughout the organization;
– Reducing or eliminating waiting times – whether on the phone (reservations, customer service etc.), as well as for service or an appointment at the physical location;
– Offering customer loyalty programs through joint collaborations with other luxury purveyors – a great way to make them feel special by receiving something extra;
– Asking for feedback with regards to service and product experiences for ways to improve those experiences. Discerning clientele are typically strongly opinionated and relish giving their views.
– Implementing the latest technology with all touch points.

The Aston Martin automotive brand with its power, beauty, soul and heritage as its tagline delivers to a specific and limited market segment by giving way to its consumer target to acquire their models they associate with a “luxurious and sporty lifestyle.” The brand is essentially a status symbol.

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. “Total customer experience” is not an option but rather compulsory as part of an alluring brand. It takes savvy planning, execution and perpetual refinements to stand above the crowd. It’s how you get noticed and remain relevant. Luxury brand desirability is driven by standout design, craftsmanship, as well as what is felt.

A typical Aston Martin showroom portrays a super luxury car brand able to offer a “wow” factor to its intended customers with an unconventional retail experience which exploits the five senses. This includes a showroom floor with ideal lighting, the various models well positioned/presented, impeccably dressed/groomed staff, and an upscale lounge ‒ overall, presenting sight, sound, smell, touch sensorial experiences and creating a feeling of lavishness. Some will go as far as offer art exhibitions on the premises, five star dining events and wine tasting to name a few. It’s what its type of clientele crave.

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The Genuine Luxury Domain and Its Country of Origin: Why the Latter Matters

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

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Made in Italy - NO in China Tag

With the proliferation of Italian and French luxury brands bearing the ‘Made in China”, ‘Made in Turkey’ or made elsewhere remote from their land of origin, it makes one ponder whether the brands are diluting their image for the sake of lower prices and higher profits. This begs us to revisit the question of what constitutes an “authentic” luxury product and whether manufacturing in a country unknown and unfamiliar for evoking luxury is a good long term strategy for the brand with heritage.

Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity

Definitions of “luxury” vary enormously and depend on with whom you discuss the topic and in what context. The term “Luxury” has never been something easy to define. It is relative, mysterious and elusive. In essence, it revolves around subjective criteria in the mind, which creates a mood and what is generally referred to today as lifestyle.

The proliferation and marketing misuse of the word “luxury” on many products across sectors is quite evident. Brands either do it out of ignorance or to enhance the desire for the consumer to purchase their products.

Gary Harwood at HKLM, one of the founders and directors of a leading strategic branding and communication design consultancy, affirmed:

A luxury brand is very expensive, exclusive and very rare – not meant for everyone. When it ceases to be these things, then it’s lost its exclusive cachet. Commoditizing luxury brands and making them more accessible to the middle market puts them at risk of becoming ordinary, common and less desirable. And the more available a brand is, the less luxurious it becomes.”

Authentic luxury brands compete on the basis of their ability to invoke exclusivity, prestige and hedonism to their appropriate market segments not the masses. There is a classic litmus test:

  • Is the product manufactured in artificially limited quantities? (i.e. the rarity factor)
  • Does the firm have a story to tell? (i.e. history & pedigree)
  • Is the firm portraying a unique lifestyle?
  • Is craftsmanship the hallmark, which delivers products that only High Net Worth individuals can purchase without question?
  • Does the brand offer authenticity?
  • Does it implement an absolutely no discounting policy?
  • Is the product (and at least most of its materials/parts) manufactured only in its country of origin?

Luxury is not premium – and premium is not luxury. They are two dissimilar categories catering to different market segments.

France - Italy Cufflinks

Luxury Product Roots and Perception: Key Factors of Authentic Luxury

A luxury product is rooted in a culture and comes along with a small fragment of its native soil, of its heritage. This proposes that in order for a “luxury” product to remain true to its origins, as one of its main criteria, its production shall remain in the country of origin ‒ whether that is France, Italy or elsewhere (most notably in Europe). Tempting to relocate production elsewhere can cause the brand to lose its lustre and character.

Professor Jean-Noël Kapferer, an author and lecturer at the Kellogg Business School (Northwestern University, USA), as well as at HEC Paris, Europe’s premier academic research center on Luxury, clarified his views on this subject matter by stating that:

Looking at luxury companies’ own attitudes, there is a clear segmentation, based on their brand positioning and business model. A first group (such as Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Chanel) emphasize quality and heritage as the main sources of their incomparability. They are patriots. For them, a country of origin is a homeland, much like the soil in a vineyard – a miracle made of earth, nature, sun, rain, and sophisticated human labor, loaded with culture. For them, ‘made in…’ tells a whole story, tying production to a long heritage.

He further affirmed that:

“To remain a true luxury brand, following the luxury business model, entails sticking to local production. This is not an easy task for many luxury brands. Those that comply must create the conditions that are necessary to sustain this production. This is why they often buy their local sub-contractors in case the latter go bankrupt, to be sure to keep alive a historical know-how that might otherwise disappear.”

France and Italy are considered the leading countries for luxury and trend setters for clothing and accessories. Luxury watches (better known as “timepieces”) are manufactured in Switzerland ‒ the undisputed leader in this category. London, is considered to be the luxury spirit capital of the world with Burberry as the most prominent luxury brand. Whereas, Germany Italy, as well as the UK are for luxury automobiles. However, what they do produce elsewhere in the world are not ‘luxury’ but rather their lower priced “premium” derivatives (think BMW, Mercedes and Audi). Other illustrious automotive names, such as Ferrari and Rolls Royce, continue to manufacture solely in their native country.

Private vs. Public Luxury Purveyors

For the good of their distinguished image and cache, top-tier luxury brands should remain small privately held, with no pressure to sell and family run beyond the reach of speculators. These companies are managed, and their equity held, by those families. Consequently, management of brands, people and profits are done with the long term in mind, not necessarily the next quarter, which most investors would not have the patience to deal with if the luxury brand was publicly traded. In essence, the privately held have the luxury of taking risks as they desire and staying the course when they don’t. They have the freedom to invest for 5-10 years without receiving a financial return. In comparison, the publicly traded ones, which are accountable to their shareholders, are constantly under pressure to trim production costs and increase revenues and profits which lead them to cater to a larger audience ‒ the mass affluent. So much for all the elements of ‘genuine’ luxury purveyors which are doing away with scarcity and exclusivity.

The most prominent smaller and privately held ‘authentic’ luxury brands which fulfill every criteria ‘luxury’ truly exudes are as follows:

Soft Luxury Goods (high-end apparel, leather goods and exclusive fragrances) include: Hermès (70% owned/controlled by the Dumas family ‒ the descendants of its founder), Chanel (100% ownership by the Wertheimer family) and the niche perfume house, Creed Fragrance Company founded in 1760 (100% ownership by the Creed family ‒ descendants of its founder).

Hard Luxury Goods (products such as watches, jewellery and pens) include: Rolex, Chopard, Patek Philippe amongst others.

According to the Millward Brown luxury brand survey, which includes the large luxury groups, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Gucci, Chanel, LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton), Rolex, Cartier, Fendi and Tiffany & Co. respectively, are the most successful family owned luxury brands. Moreover, research done by SDA Bocconi, renowned for providing world class luxury education, revealed that unique characteristics of most family-owned or managed business fit almost perfectly with the competitive logic of hard and soft luxury approaches. Needless to say, their management culture, retaining the mystique (crucial in the ultra-luxury domain), and long-term decision approach are all instrumental for cultivating and preserving their brand heritage.

Hermes 2014 Ad Campaign

Hermes 2013 Ad Campaign

In the Final Analysis

There should be no confusion between luxury and premium or even a fashion category. When someone buys a luxury object, he/she purchases craftsmanship, cache, pedigree, made in limited quantities, a special place in the world of lifestyle and exclusivity (made for the few). The premium business model is based on the manufacturing of best-in-class products, with an image of style. Fashion is a general term for a popular style or practice, especially in clothing, foot wear, and accessories. Fashion references to anything that is the current trend in look and dress up of a person. Usually not timeless. A “luxury” and a ‘premium” product can be both – as in a tailored made fine wool suit for example.

Therein lies the major differences between a luxury product and a premium product. It’s legitimate for a premium product to seek out the most suitable and most economical manufacturing location, so long as quality and service levels can be maintained.

Brands such as Nike, Adidas, Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, amongst others, are doing an exceptional job of selling solely an image to the masses. Indeed, far from being a genuine ‘luxury’ brand, most of their products are manufactured in low labor countries such as China.

The ‘made in’ label plays a significant role for luxury aficionados who hold higher expectations including a value added quotient to ‘luxury’ brands who produce their products in their respective country of origin – mainly France, Italy and the U.K. For categories other than apparel and accessories, production should be elsewhere in Western Europe.

In the article “Building a Luxury Brand Image in a Digital World” by David Dubois, INSEAD Assistant Professor of Marketing and Debbie Teo, INSEAD MBA, they quote the following:

Hermès has no desire to become ‘masstige’ (a mass producer of prestige goods) the company’s CEO Patrick Thomas stated in 2009. In essence, he asserted that his brand was not in a position to dilute its image and compromise on quality in the interest of short-term results. This is truly one of very few authentic “luxury” brands befitting the model and criteria in the sense of the word.

Privately held luxury brands are prone to view business with long-term vision and remain rigid with quality over quantity. Comparatively, their publicly traded counterparts go out of their way to please their shareholders which may dilute their “luxury” status for the sake of volume and short–term gains.

Good business decisions are not the domain of tactical “bean counters” — exploiting the luxury brands for all their worth. They may also come from strategic planning and overall financial leadership.

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The Genuine Luxury Establishment: Perception, Ambiance & the Total Shopping Experience

Luxury Street - Cartier

by James D. Roumeliotis with a special contribution by Stephane Delille

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Consider this! You are walking on, what is considered, a prestigious street in a downtown area of a major city lined up with a slew of luxury shops. What do you particularly notice about the look of the shops as compared to mainstream stores? Would you say it’s the window displays which are striking? The entrance? The upscale and inviting interior design? The way the merchandise is displayed?

Designing a luxury shop is much more than four walls, racks and lighting. It’s a meticulous creative and holistic process taking into account that luxury stores have to transmit the identity of a luxury brand, so that the image the customer has of this brand is affirmed by each store visit. Needless to say, it’s a design concept coupled with the total customer experience in mind.

Piaget timepieces, Bond Street, London boutique

Piaget timepieces, Bond Street, London

Ambiance, personalized service and the total shopping experience 

In a world where the consumer has become savvier, luxury products more accessible through an increase in democratization of luxury brands and the rapid emergence of prestige brands, the retail environment in luxury branding is all about heightening the consumer’s brand experience and amplifying the brand aura.

A well designed luxury retail boutique should embody an extraordinary design that is timeless while maintaining a striking interior that is unique, inviting, functional, and most certainly portray a luxurious setting.

A custom designed attractive setting – yet alluring with captivating style, invites customers to truly feel the brand experience by adding character. It exudes a “You’ve arrived!” underlying message. This is accomplished by connecting the feeling of warmth and acceptance ‒ via emotions to a product or service, and infusing it with a tangible and intangible essence that remain in the customers’ minds. The vital elements are:

  • Location: The luxury brand store perception all begins with its location. A prestigious address/neighborhood makes an initial luxury statement ‒ whether on a prominent avenue such as Bond Street in London, Rue Saint Honoré in Paris or Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and at other renowned high-fashion streets worldwide. A high-end mall and airport outlets are becoming ever more popular due to their convenient spots along with an increasingly sophisticated environment.
  • Facade/Window Display: transparency/opacity of the windows, display highlights for outside windows (product type, arrangement of space, animation, colors and much more.), frequent creative displays and themes all play a vital role in showcasing merchandise with pizazz.
  • Main entryway: This should reflect an imposing appearance by creating the feeling of grand luxury access to the interior of the boutique. Elizabeth Arden’s signature red door is a distinguishable fixture at her stores and spas worldwide.
  • Decor: Attention to details including well-crafted attractive furnishings and materials (pillows or decorative accents) throughout. Choice of color palette, textures, combination of materials and accents all influence the overall store image in addition to being part of the overall design esthetics.
  • Lighting and its effects: The proper choice of illumination adds to the overall design and ambiance.Lighting can bring focus to merchandise displays, hide imperfections, add warmth, and help create a positive shopping experience for the brand’s clients. Halogen spots and LED lighting are the preferred variety for interior designers.
  • Smell and Background Music environment: These reflect the store’s personality. Smell is considered the olfactory of the fifth human sense. The scenting strategy is part of “sensory”/”sensorial” marketing and branding that’s meant to attach certain smells to brands, drive loyalty, and make people feel at home. Whereas, music/sound supports refining brand communication and in designing a better sounding environment. A discreet volume should be considered as an ideal comfort level.
  • Merchandising appeal ‒ display and layout: localization of displays (size, colors, kits, messages) while keeping in line with brand values and guidelines. The spaces where your clients see and touch your products have an effect on the visual aspect along with their shopping experience.
  • Lounge area: possibility or not to have private salons for VIPs, to utilize for private shows/demonstrations, presentations and other special gathering purposes.
  • Service amenities: Washrooms should possess panache and be spotless. Their design can achieve the look and feel of luxury with both functionality and comfort. A kitchenette can be an additional amenity for preparing and catering light food/hors d’oeuvres. A workshop for bespoke functions such as product setting on the spot, size customization, engraving etc). Perhaps a kid’s space with animation to keep a child/children busy while their mum/dad/parents are shopping. The kids can eventually be converted to the luxury label themselves.
  • Staff Caliber and Overall Customer Care: Luxury goes beyond good looks. The service offered is a major event in itself. This comprises of dress code, attitude, and politeness regardless of what the client looks/wears. As well as responsiveness, a consultative sales approach and accessibility. This requires proper hiring criteria, on-boarding and repeated training in product knowledge, presentation skills, and anticipating customer expectations to go above and beyond. Luxury firms need to implement KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to gauge their service effectiveness which do not only measure the performance of organizational processes, but also warrant a consistent quality level of in-store service.

Bijan Boutique

Bijan Boutique, Rodeo Drive

Artisans of timeless and artistic retail interior design

It takes bold strokes to prevail from the competition by showcasing a distinctive look along with creating an emotional bond with the clientele. As such, luxury brands are making their mark on the map with a radical and explosive architectural vision. It’s where design innovation coupled with creativity are paramount when delivering artistic solutions driven by each individual brand’s image.

When it comes to commissioning distinctiveness with luxury ambiance interiors in the retail, restaurant and hotel sectors respectively, Yabu & Pushelberg have become the go-to interior designers akin to what Frank Gehry is to deconstructivist architecture. In over three decades, the duo partners, based in Toronto along with a New York City design studio, have fostered a client list that ranges from Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co to Four Seasons Hotels and renowned French chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud. In their work, Yabu and Pushelberg manage to articulate luxury through contrasts, austere designs with fine materials, as well as through comfort and the casual, strong points of view, including a crafty mix of art and artisanship. For them, luxury is a state of mind, not a material.

Yabu-pushelberg-lane-crawford-sitting-area

A Yabu & Pushelberg sample interior

The final take

The ambiance created in a luxury boutique is one of the finest marketing tools. The aesthetic appeal to human senses, the feel of the brand creates the image. Along with great service, it is one of the most important reasons customers will choose to shop repeatedly. It’s where the brand lives by orchestrating immaculate detailing that engages all senses of the discerning target audience. Surround the brand and its products/services with fashion, beauty, design and attractive models – without any characteristics of tackiness.

It all begins with the choice of store location, the immediate initial impression (window display, entrance, store layout, merchandising, furnishings, lighting and much more), the sales staff presentation and the impact of each touch-point in creating a unique indulging experience. The small touches that regularly go unnoticed help to create a distinct sense of place in luxury commercial spaces.

Emporio Luxury Mall, New Delhi, India

Emporio Luxury Mall, New Delhi, India

All that said, today’s savvy luxury consumers are increasingly seeking much more than merely a cosmetically elegant looking bricks and mortar shops. They have become more discerning and seeking a more knowledgeable and professional assistance to help them in managing their lifestyle and stature. It all boils down to the total customer experience which embraces knowledgeable and helpful staff, alluring presentations, storytelling, exclusive invites and privileged previews amongst other lifestyle themed activities.

FOR THE “15 Retail Essentials – Your Opening Toolbox” PRESENTATION, KINDLY COMMUNICATE WITH JAMES AT: jdr(AT)affluencemarketing(DOT) ca

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The Sensuous Brand: How to create allure with products and user experience

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Why are visually appealing products rare which make purchasing it a delight and worth talking about? Common sense dictates that product design should be attractive – perhaps possess sex appeal if the brand behind its product(s) seeks to make a sales impact. Although beauty is subjective, there are common standards of attractive packaging, which are smart and demonstrate the intrinsic value of the product’s attributes.

However, many will agree that smart design looks timeless, expresses character and is visually seductive.

Barring lingerie labels such Victoria’s Secret or Agent Provocateur – which in and of themselves will ooze with sexiness, most other brands and their products from non-seductive sectors can still create and possess a sense of styling along with desire.

A brand that caters to all the senses, begins with an appealing brand identity, followed by creative industrial design of its products  – which are complemented with a positive customer experience in every touch point.

Design - Seductive with QUOTE

Artfully articulating what your brand and offering represent

Adding personality to objects and human interaction are quintessential to customer envy and desire.

There are brands that design and churn sensuous looking products. However, there is one that most will agree is top of mind for the refined consumer electronics market –- Apple. It’s all about the appealing logo, the attractively designed and “feel good” products, the alluring packaging, the intriguing ads, and the overall positive customer experience at their retail level, Needless to say, it’s a contemporary brand that undoubtedly gets it. It’s no wonder it created a strong following, or as marketing maven Seth Godin would describe as a “tribe.”

When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying into the brand repeatedly and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s image and reputation.

Product design is key to a great brand. Design is the elemental differentiator with competitors. Allure builds the emotional bond and turns owners into enthusiasts.

“It’s all about integrating design and brand,” says Joe Doucet, founder of Joe Doucet Studio.

We need to cease thinking of them as different disciplines. The essence of the Apple brand comes through its design. Take the logo off a BMW and you still know it’s a BMW.”

Design also needs to be part of the strategic plan from the start, embraced by the CEO and across the Board.

A brand is not your logo or ID system,” says Robert Brunner, founder of the design shop Ammunition and author of ‘Do You Matter: How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company.’

It’s a gut feeling people have about you. When two or more people have the same feeling, you have a brand. You get that feeling via smart design, which creates the experiences people have with the brand. Everything you do creates the brand experience; ergo design is your brand.

Skyy Vodka - Sexy Brand

Much more than just a vodka

The holistic approach to customer attraction and retention

Consumers today are more brand conscience, yet there are companies which continue to spend money advertising and selling product rather than brand. They place emphasis on price and quality as differentiators despite these two being overused by many copycats. Successful brands take a holistic approach to selling by exploiting the 5 senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished by what I regard as “ambiance marketing” and “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.

To put the aforementioned into perspective, consider the following:

  • Visual – lighting, décor, colors, layout…you can get a real sense of movement using these elements.
  • Auditory – music, effects, volume, vibrations…you set the tone and the energy of the room with your sonic selections.
  • Tactile textures, comfort, climate…this is all about how your guests interact with the environment.  This is a big thing to consider when you are designing the layout.
  • Olfactory fragrance, emotion, ambiance…this sense is under-rated and powerful. Of all our senses, the sense of smell is most closely linked to emotion and memory. You can use something as simple as burning incense or candles to something far more complex like computer controlled scent machines to enhance your environment. This could just be the extra touch needed to set the mood.
  • Gustative – with food establishments, the challenge is in finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter during menu designs and beverage selections.  The presentation also makes an impact on the overall image.

Creativity, quality, storytelling and above all, customer experience

Standard products and mundane user experiences don’t offer compelling reasons for consumers to do business with certain brands. If a business can’t articulate its USP (unique selling proposition) ‒ as to why anyone should do business with your brand, your product and/or service merely becomes a “commodity” whose price will be the sole determinant in any transaction.  Being formidable and considered top of mind in your B2C sector requires a philosophy – a certain culture which will develop a following by consumers who share your values.

Quality materials, assembly and final product look increase a company’s competitiveness. The quality of a product may be defined as “its ability to fulfil the customer’s needs and expectations”. If the characteristics and specifications of a brand’s product line are equal or superior to its competitors, along with a fair price-value equation, the brand will turn out to be a preferred choice.

Storytelling, on the other hand, builds relationships by the stories that are well told. Stories add personality and authenticity to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. Luxury brands tend to boast their pedigree since their discerning clientele desire a deeper level of involvement and understanding of the history and heritage of the brand when it comes to their luxury purchase. This is referred to as “experiential luxury.”

It is essential that the sales professional be product proficient and adept at assisting and guiding the client to the purchase making use of flattery, romance and showmanship. To illustrate, when selling a niche automobile such as a Porsche, the sales consultant can talk about racetracks, describe road-holding capabilities, build-up a fascinating story – after which time he/she can bring-up reliability and the technical details which confirm to the discerning client what he/she is already aware of.

When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with it. They become brand loyalists and advocates – purchasing the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation.

Be first, different & daring – above all, visually stimulating

Plan and execute flawlessly the following to differentiate and develop into, as well as remain an enviable brand through artistic design and function:

–       The brand logo and company presentations should possess flair, consistency and be memorable;

–       Focus on a specific target audience/niche market rather than divert to several markets or the general population;

–       Innovative and “feel good” product design (both visually and tactile): Get inspired by designs from Philippe Starck, Pininfarina, Porsche Design and Bang & Olufsen. Architecture by Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid  Automobile design trends by Audi, Tesla, and in the last few years, Hyundai with its entire model makeup. Kohler Group doesn’t simply design functional bathroom and kitchen sinks and faucets, but rather bold designs and technology to an otherwise lackluster plumbing product sector.

Perhaps product customization and personalization should be available as an additional offering.

Smartphones have recently began to make a fashion statement to differentiate themselves and make them more appealing by offering new jazzy textures and color choices not available with previous models ‒ other than in the ubiquitous black or white. For example, Motorola began to offer its Moto X smartphone in a large number of color variations. Not to be outdone, Sony, Samsung and others have also entered the new trend to increase product appeal with color options of their own.

–       As for service related domains, place emphasis on employee attitude/personality, empowerment, constant training, effortless accessibility for your clients, flexibility when solving issues and presentations with style, as well as finesse. Each and every customer should be treated with personal care – a sign of individuality;

–       The Total Customer Experience: Be easy to do business with – accessible – at every stage of a transaction from initial contact/pre-sale, during the sale and post-sale (follow-through and customer service). Zappos, Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton Hotels and American Express (to name some of the finest examples) are renowned for their obsession with customer service and total customer experience;

–       Soothing sounds and striking visuals: Consider sound branding complimented with refined standout visuals (audio, images and video). Surround your brand and its products/services with fashion, beauty, design and attractive models – without any marks of tackiness;

–       Packaging design should be visually appealing, distinctive, tastefully decorated, and equally inviting to open.

–       Sponsor, collaborate and/or associate with a fashion related brand and/or the arts. Both brands can benefit from combined exposure (PR and advertising). Luxury goods brands such as Versace, Bulgari and Fendi are teaming up with property developers to offer upscale designer hotels. Their trademark at hotel properties, in a select number of affluent cities worldwide, offers their loyal clients something new to get excited about.  It’s a collaboration which celebrates a shared fondness in design and luxury experiences.

–       Create and own a captivating name and category for your product or product line. Luxottica, is the world’s largest eyewear company, controlling over 80% of the world’s major eyewear brands (eye glasses and prescription frames) including Ray-Ban and Oakley sunglasses, along with Chanel, Prada and many other designer labels. It re-invented eyewear which were once considered a “medical device” and developed them into a fashion statement. They no longer label their products as “glasses” but as “eyewear” and “face jewellery” (for a lack of a better term/descriptive);

–       Marketing collateral and ads should be: (i) slick, (ii) minimalistic, (iii) emotional, (iv) portray a lifestyle, and (v) apply the “less is more” mantra. Arouse curiosity. Effective marketing campaigns should also include elements of: Imagination, Mystery and Memory;

–       Be a visionary and innovate – anticipate what your sector will look like in 3-5 years and begin to plant the seeds/strategize in a timely manner. Avoid complacency. Blackberry is an excellent case study exemplifying what they should have done a few years ago to remain relevant amongst iPhone and the Android platform smartphones.

Lessons from luxury brands: creating a lifestyle brand through emotional attachment

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. The most ideal example is when thousands of people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to get their hands on the latest iPhone or iPad. This happens because Apple has built an emotional attachment to their products by creating a lifestyle choice rather than a product purchase.

It’s about how it makes you feel. Same goes for baby boomers, whether accountants or attorneys or business executives who purchase a Harley Davidson motorcycle and ride them for about four or five hours every Sunday afternoon. The bike makes them feel like a rebel – sort of an escape.

A brand that is designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than one based on features like cost or benefits alone. The goal of a lifestyle brand is to become a way that people can utilize it to relate to one another. Those brands are an attempt to sell an identity, or an image, rather than a product and what it actually does.

Lifestyle brands have gained an increased share of the luxury market including prominent brands such as BMW (ultimate driving experience), W Hotels (avant garde designer hotels for a younger audience, along with whatever you want, whenever you want it, as long as it’s not illegal), Louis Vuitton (prestige and opulence), Rolex (representing the pinnacle of achievement; fulfilling and perfection in one’s life) and Aston Martin (power, beauty, soul and heritage). Those brands have given way to consumers to buy their products that they associate with a “luxurious life.” They are essentially a status symbol. Abercrombie & Fitch has created a lifestyle based on a preppy, young Ivy League lifestyle. Their retail stores evoke this lifestyle through an upscale environment, physically attractive models, along with spicy ads featuring young people living the A&F lifestyle.

Hermes Equestrian Fashion Photo

Hermes gets it right with its sensuous ad campaigns

The final take: Elegant & intelligent design

Beauty and design in all things is artistic, engaging, stimulating and creates a sense of comfort. It’s also a very personal thing. Creativity is beauty in art form. It starts from nothing, utilizes mind exploitation, imagination then something awe inspiring is produced which stimulates the mind and senses. The approach to creativity is the way an artist might stand before a new canvas, on which a beautiful painting can be crafted. Staff who work in a creative environment should be given plenty of leeway to utilize their full potential – the freedom to flourish. Not doing so limits their artistic talent and deprives the company from taking a leap at the competition. Apple has successfully unleashed the talent from their product engineers by creating a non-stifling work environment. As for architects and industrial designers, they should definitely possess the talent and imagination to create and turn extraordinary drawings into reality.

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. When Apple releases a new consumer electronic device, people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to get their hands on the latest iPhone or iPad. This is a result of Apple constantly building an emotional attachment to its products by managing the total user experience.

“Total customer experience” is not an option but rather compulsory as part of an alluring brand. It takes savvy planning, execution and perpetual refinements to stand above the crowd. It’s how you get noticed and remain relevant. Luxury brand desirability is driven by standout design, craftsmanship, as well as what is felt.

It takes vision, creativity and intuition, along with unflagging discipline and a sense of style, to keep a consumer focused company relevant and its products on everyone’s must-have lists. No brand should be complacent.

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Sound Branding: Exploiting the Auditory Human Sense for Multi-sensory Communication

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Music has sex appeal for a brand

Music adds sex appeal to a brand

It is said that the human ear reacts to certain sounds which is telling that we’re wired for sound. Sounds, most notably music, trigger emotions, auditory pleasures, memories and associations. For branding, sound is multi-sensory communication and a holistic corporate model which drives perception, creates attention along with a familiar association. It’s also a means of differentiation from the plethora of advertising media.

The auditory effect to enhance brand identity

Whether it’s a memorable Intel or Coca-Cola jingle, a mega artist’s association with a soft drink or lifestyle brand, Harley Davidson’s distinctive and trademarked motorcycle exhaust sound, or Kellogg’s investment in the power of auditory stimulus with its cereal crunching sounds, marketing strategically through proprietary sounds is increasingly becoming a prevalent means of forming a distinctive brand personality. The advent of digital media and devices with built-in audio, such as smart phones, tablets, streaming media or podcasts, increases the opportunities for companies to utilize audio branding in their overall communication strategy and brand experience. Samples of audio identity can be viewed and heard here.

Consider, below, what some brands are doing with sound to entice new clients and retain existing ones:
– Bentley Motor Cars developed “The new sound of Bentley” — a stirring and thunderous soundtrack and the prelude to a potent new Bentley driving experience.
– Hip boutique hotels such as Puro Hotel in Mallorca, whose beach bar has been voted one of the world’s 50 best by CNN Travel, surrounds you everywhere with lounge/chill-out genre of music compiled by its in-house DJ ‒ whether you open their website, choose to listen to their on-line steaming player, purchase a CD, relax by the pool sipping a passion fruit mojito or come nightfall, gather around to dance to their house tunes.
– Fashion retailer American Apparel, geared for a ‘twentysomething’ audience, constantly plays a fast paced “feel-good” tempo type of music in the background. It is streamed from its own Viva radio station – its official in-store music and audio network. As part of its overall store ambiance, it plays it live in over 160 of its retail locations worldwide. This feat has demonstrated its influence on shopper purchases resulting in increased sales.

Martin Lindstrom, branding expert and author of several books on the subject of ‘neuromarketing’, wrote in his book “Brand Sense” (on “Branding the Sound of Falling Aluminium”), that the Danish luxury audio/video brand, Bang & Olufsen, has raised the bar in the manufacture of corded phones with the Beocom 2 model phone ring tone. He is quoted stating, “By refining this existing sensory touch point, additional brand equity is established, and a new aspect of the Bang & Olufsen brand is raised in the universe of the brand.” Birgitte Rode, CEO of Audio Management adds, “The difference between the BeoCom2 sound and other ringing tones is, that the Bang & Olufsen sound is human, it makes you feel at home, and it´s instantly recognizable.”

Producing a desirable ambiance best suited for your target

Fashion design icon Karl Lagerfield once said that “Fashion and music are the same, because music express its period too.” Music, effects, volume and vibrations ‒ the tone and the energy of any place can be set with the right music selections. Upbeat music that would be appropriate in the evening may not appeal to morning customers who may yet be fully alert. If you have an Italian-themed bar, you may want to interject some Italian music from artists like Zuccero or Eros Ramazotti. If your theme/branding and ambiance is geared to a very hip, young audience, it will likely suit your customers to include songs with a driving beat from cutting-edge alternative and electronic artists.

Emotionally anchoring a brand to its clients

Designing and implementing custom music and visual strategies emotionally anchor a brand to its clients. The purpose of branded digital music compilations is to turn your listeners into disciples of your brand. Every aspect of your custom CD speaks volumes about your brand. That said, custom produced white label CD’s place equal importance on print, media, and visual elements in addition to the music. Specialty music compilation companies such as Sonodea and Custom CD Corporation oversee all logistics related to custom branded CD music compilation and development. They work closely with clients on everything from the music themes to the packaging to the visual content. This ensures that the music, look and feel of the CD resonate with their customers’ clientele and target demographic which forms part of the customer experience. Sonodea also creates sound environments for retailers, boutique hotels and restaurants to enhance the auditory role of the entire ambiance.

Sonodea Ritz Branded Music CD

At the end of the day

A brand’s identity is comprised of visual, auditory and other sensory components that create recognition in the mind of the consumer. The power of music has the ability to seduce the soul, raise the spirit, build social connections, wiggle our bodies to the rhythm, increase purchases, as well as develop, strengthen and recognize brands. Sound branding supports refining brand communication and in designing a better sounding environment.
In some fashion, all business is show business and storytelling. Brand image is all about the experience, perception and differentiation you create in the customers’ mind. Sound branding forms part of the equation and bringing all this into meaningful consideration by applying its multi-sensory approach to attracting and retaining clientele to your brand and business establishment. It is, therefore, essential to consider audio brand management and strategic use of sound in the total branding equation.

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Mass Customization & Personalization: The Pinnacle of Differentiation and Brand Loyalty

by James D. Roumeliotis

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There was a time when customized products and personalized services were catered exclusively for the discerning and well heeled.

London’s Savile Row stands as a testament to personalized luxury.   In a world full of luxury dumbed down and mainstream, there has been an up-shift by certain manufacturers trying to offer tailored ranges and services to a wider audience.

This development is technically referred to as “mass customization” and “mass personalization”.  So why the shift?

Simply put, clients are demanding more and don’t share the same sense of brand loyalty as previous generations. Marketing strategists believe that focus must be on generating a community tied to customer satisfaction.  I won’t call this CRM on steroids but the analogy could hold.

With ever increased competition, brands must show genuine benefit to hold the client’s attention as well as affection. The trend is quite sweeping once you start to examine the determinants. Look at fashion apparel, beauty care products, shoes, bicycles, laptops, and even smart phones. All claim they are perfect for customization.

Mass Customization vs. Mass Personalization

According to Wikipedia, the definition of the term “mass customization” in marketing, manufacturing, call centers and management, is the use of flexible computer-aided manufacturing systems to produce custom output.

These systems combine the low unit cost of mass production processes with the flexibility of individual customization.

“Mass personalization” on the other hand, is the custom tailoring by a company in accordance with its end users tastes and preferences.

The main difference between the two concepts is the ability for a company to give its customers an opportunity to create and choose product specifications. There are however limits.

The Financial Times lists “personalized production” among six other factors driving the future of manufacturing – namely network manufacturing, technological innovation, industrial democracy, boutique manufacturing, cluster dynamics, and environmental imperatives.

A case in point: Pomarfin is a small family owned Finnish footwear company. With strong competition from Asian manufacturers, the firm decided to change its strategy.  It carefully looked at the adaptation to the mass customization paradigm, alongside a revision of its business model. Its choices were to either outsource the manufacturing of its shoes to China and simply become an ubiquitous brand, or differentiate itself while keeping its production in Europe.  It chose the latter, by deciding to compete in mass customization, making made-to-measure shoes for discerning and affluent men.  Pomarfin then introduced the clever concept of installing and utilizing a foot scanner in retail stores, which sells its shoes. The client’s foot gets scanned and the image is then uploaded to a server and sent to the firm’s manufacturing plant.  The client then decides if he wants his exact fitting shoes shipped directly to his address of choice or picked up at the retailer.

Moreover, as an additional convenience, the customer can reorder custom shoes through Pomarfin’s website. To be fair and retain loyalty with its retailing partners, Pomarfin pays them a royalty for life for each new pair of shoes purchased by a customer sent its way.

Broad Marketing of Bespoke Products & Services

Clients have simply become more demanding. They expect more, and have no loyalty to brands that do not come up with the experience to match the product or service hype. This trend is both at the B2C and B2B level.

Everyone it seems is looking for the enviable win-win scenario.

It is natural to think that bespoke is the sole domain of the fashion industry whether shoes, suits, shirts or haute couture. These items with their stress on handmade carry heavy price tags and are geared to people with a high DPI.

You would be mistaken to believe that this is not possible for a mass market. For example, Dell computers was the first firm to offer customization to their entire range. In fact, designing your own computer needs with a consultant is the DNA of this organization. Dell understood that this type of differentiation would mark them apart from anyone else in the industry.

Other consumer goods operations quickly followed suit. For example, Adidas AG launched the miAdidas unit which offers custom sports shoes. Nestle delivered a market coup to the coffee industry with Nespresso, bringing single serve coffee into the home and office. Now you can serve different types of coffee within a group with no effort.

Individuality is a Sign of Personality: The Way Forward

The mass customization trend has been a rolling bandwagon. Understanding and harvesting this demand is easier said than done. Smart firms generally respond by building production facilities and systems with an increasing number of modifications in order to produce and deliver individualized units as per customer’s preference.

This certainly has its benefits and drawbacks:

Advantages
– Allows customers to create customized products
– Products deliver excellent value for money
– Makes comparative shopping difficult
– Shifts the focus from price to benefits
– Economies of scale/mass efficiency
– Manufacturer can justify charging a premium
– Easily differentiated against similar products
– Provides deeper form of customer engagement and data

Disadvantages:
– Increased overall complexity
– A significant initial investment + per unit cost of production
– Layover time – takes longer to manufacture
– No return policy on custom orders

Progress in manufacturing technology such as computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) and computer-aided design (CAD) have increased the flexibility, as well as the efficiency of the modern-day factory to achieve build-to-order products.

Source: Emerald Insight

Ordinary is for the Mainstream – Do Luxury Brands Have Your Number?

Traditionally, the wealthy have great purchasing power. In theory, they are sophisticated and unafraid to express their taste as trendsetters and style mavens. They can also be the hardest segment to market to effectively because they are spoiled for choice.

Yet billions are spent catering to the tastes of this ever growing segment. Take the Paris Fashion Week shows and you can see the parade, the fanfare, and the glitz. Everyone is here: the paparazzi, fashionistas, and even fashion bloggers. Is it any wonder? Everyone craves glamor and it’s big business.

If you are one of the Jet-Set, do you want to be just mainstream? Of course, you don’t. The luxury trade has got your number, no matter how idiosyncratic your taste or preferences. Need private banking where professionalism and discretion are key? You got it. Want to stay in a boutique hotel so exclusive that few even know it exists? It’s there for the taking.

The providers of these services use what I refer to as “Bespoke Marketing” along with “Sensorial Branding” to differentiate their message and total customer experience respectively. These branding exercises are narrow in scope and speak of privilege the way its understood among the cognoscenti.

It is typical for certain shoppers at Louis Vuitton on the Champs-Elysees in Paris to serve the right customers flutes of champagne while they try things on or discuss their luggage needs upstairs. It must be said that LV knows how to coddle their clients.  As I am sure you can appreciate, LV is not the only store in this town to offer VIP red carpet treatment. Most major luxury firms do likewise such as Cartier, Dior, and Chanel.

Need a personalized briefcase? Why not pop over to Hermes? They are awaiting your next visit. The world of Hermes personifies exclusivity. Open one of their in-house magazines, and a special universe is revealed. The key beyond outstanding products is the creation of something bordering on revelation. The store itself has become a stage set, and sales pros are the players who embody the firm’s DNA.

Bespoke is the middle name of this institution. Real luxury brands understand this concept like Stradivarius handcrafted violins.

Needless to say, the term “luxury” has been misused over the years. It is mysterious and elusive. In essence, it revolves around subjective criteria referred to as lifestyle.

Gary Harwood at HKLM, one of the founders and directors of a leading strategic branding and communication design consultancy, stated:

“A luxury brand is very expensive, exclusive and very rare – not meant for everyone. When it ceases to be these things, then it’s lost its exclusive cachet. Commoditizing luxury brands and making them more accessible to the middle market puts them at risk of becoming ordinary, common and less desirable. And the more available a brand is, the less luxurious it becomes.”

Perfume connoisseurs are taking their choices a notch above most as the top-end of the fragrance industry is a very personalized one. Consequently, niche perfumes for the discerning and well-to-do are growing rapidly. This sector is creating new trends in the beauty and fashion world through an artisan approach.  Customers visiting bespoke perfumery shops expect highly trained staff to advise on fragrances. A great “nose” knows different clients value different scents, and thus will prescribe like an old fashioned doctor, who used to make house calls. Chemistry and diet also play a role in developing your own signature perfume.

Quite sophisticated and personalized indeed. But then, isn’t this the true symbiotic meaning of luxury?

novero_victoria_gold_stripes

The Final Take

“Mass customization” and “mass personalization” (or “build-to-order marketing” and “one-to-one marketing”) in delivering either products or services when properly implemented, bring about across-the-board improvements in all dimensions of a business. This includes, price, responsiveness, quality, and a positive experience. Competitiveness and operational effectiveness of a company also improve.

However, mass customization also has a few drawbacks as it does come with a cost. Along with a substantial initial investment in manufacturing equipment upgrades, the primary challenge in pursuing mass customization stems from increased complexity in its operations. A higher level of product customization requires greater product variety, which, in turn, entails greater number of parts, processes, suppliers, retailers, and distribution channels. As a result, bigger challenges exist to manage all those aspects of the business from raw material procurement to production and eventually to distribution. In addition, an increase in product variety has the effect of introducing greater uncertainty in demand realizations, increase in manufacturing cycle times, as well as an increase in shipment lead times.

In the luxury sector, traditionally there hasn’t been any shortage of customization for the ultra-high-net-worth. Exclusive and bespoke travel companies provide tailor made adventures and excursions, whereas, the ultra luxury and exotic automobile sectors such as Rolls Royce and Ferrari respectively offer a wide array of customization options. Each vehicle coming out of the studio will be completely unique and guided by a personal designer at the manufacturers.

“Good things come to those who wait.” Or so the saying goes.

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Ambiance Marketing/Sensory Branding — in IMAGES

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Today, consumer purchase decisions are increasingly driven by consumers’ hearts. With ambiance marketing/sensory branding, a custom designed attractive setting, yet alluring with captivating style, invites customers to truly feel the brand experience by adding character. This is accomplished by connecting the emotions to a product or service, and infusing it with a tangible and intangible essence that remain in the customers’ minds.

See images and videos which depict the essence of ambiance marketing/sensory branding.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE for the link to the images/video page

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The Smell Of Exclusivity: Evolution of the Niche Perfume Market

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Smell Branding Image

Open any fashion magazine and you are immediately struck by the mystique of perfume adverts. It is an industry, which combines the power to make people dream, to imagine their ability to attract, and better still seduce. It plays on the psychological heartstrings of self worth and self-perception.

When the elements come together with force, people feel sexy and desirable. Billions are spent on their consumption. Large and small houses spare no expense in their creation and marketing. Perhaps this explains why so much effort is spent on designing an appropriate package along with creating the right name.

The Commercialization of Designer Fragrances

Mainstream body fragrances are usually a blend of synthetic elements. They are produced by only a handful of firms.

Niche perfumes however, are not generally associated with fashion labels, celebs or extravagant looking bottles. Their trademarks are rare components constructed to leave an indelible mark.

Such fragrances are built on a pyramid, harness raw materials and are aromatic. Many are botanically sourced and distilled by master perfume makers. Key ingredients include Damascus rose, jasmine, citrus from Sicily or Corsica, and even tree bark such as sandalwood, juniper, and cedar.

For these reasons, trained noses are in high demand. However, the use of perfume and the selection of ingredients are cultural and even generational. Take two well-known brands as examples:

Many young clients prefer the scent marketed by Abercrombie & Fitch. It is light, sweet and attracts. Although everyone knows Chanel No.5 not everyone will wear this fragrance. It is heavy and voluptuous. Marilyn Monroe might have worn nothing else to bed, but who else follows suit? Chanel’s new advert campaign online has been designed to capture a new generation of advocates.

 

When Only Luxury Perfume Will Do

Recent statistics show that the demand for fragrances continues to grow most notably in the Gulf and Middle East. Euromonitor, a consumer research firm states that perfume sales in Saudi Arabia top sales in 2010 ($827.5 million) followed by the UAE, ($205.8 million) during the same year. On average, a Gulf client will spend $380 per annum on perfumes.

Lifestyle and DPI do not alone explain the stats. It is also the demand for rare elements used in their preferred fragrances some of which contain oud and amber. Just last year Christian Dior has tried to tap this lucrative market with much success.

Other classic brands such as Armani and YSL have tried to do likewise. Historically however, more emphasis was placed on naming the product and the packaging rather than the actual contents. Lifestyle has always been the key market driver when a big fashion brand launches a new perfume. They are seen as key pieces of the accessories puzzle to the brand, which can include cosmetics.

I am often reminded how such brands will even create a timepiece, which sports the brand name. However, these timepieces have nothing in common with genuine luxury watches such as a Patek Philippe.

As consumers become more sophisticated, they begin to shop around for more articulate perfumes. Think of Annick Goutal, Serge Lutyens, or better still Frederick Malle. These houses stress sophistication as well as natural ingredients whenever possible.

The luxury brand Hermes for example, has taken great care to hire some of the noses that work for Frederick Malle. The smell Terre d’Hermes immediately comes to mind. With each creation, there is an eau de toilette and for others there is the perfume. Both products commit the client to the brand and provide accessibility as well as exclusivity, which is the hallmark of Hermes in the first place.

 

Distinguishing Natural Perfumes from Mainstream Fashion Brands

Contrary to popular belief, France was not the first country in the world to conceive perfumes. The ancient Greeks and Romans were devoted users of fragrance. However, Grasse, a town on the South of France, is today considered the world’s capital of perfume.

The natural perfumer is both a scientist and an artist. He/She demands rigor in his/her quest of creating beautiful perfumes including his/her “nose” as an inherent talent.

According to The Natural Perfumers Guild – the world’s largest trade association dedicated to natural fragrance, natural perfumers do not use synthetic aromatic chemicals. Natural aromatics are natural biological chemicals, thus their scents come from nature. Additionally, the need is greater than the mainstream perfumers in developing a fixative base for the perfume (so it is held onto the skin to last longer.) Mainstream perfumery has a huge number of synthetic fixatives at their disposal, and natural perfumers do not, and would not, use them. Moreover, the bottles or body care containers are filled by hand which, typically, makes the entire process personal.

Niche perfumery maker Creed, established in 1760 and one of the oldest, uses such methods of hand production, including maceration and filtration, instituted at the company’s founding. It is the industry’s firm proponent of natural ingredients in fragrance. As a result, it has a loyal following that includes royalty, Hollywood stars, political leaders, legends in business, sports, music and the fine arts as well as discerning members of the public who value beauty and quality in scent.

Applying the slogan, “Fragrance without compromise” to his brand ethos, Frederick Malle  runs the exclusive fragrance boutique in Paris, Les Editions Du Parfum. His shop and the niche perfumes he sells epitomize how the luxury perfume trade has moved on from just name brands to something beyond marketing hype.

 

Of Art and Storytelling

The fragrance industry is a very personalized one. For this reason, niche perfumes for the discerning and affluent are growing rapidly. This sector is creating new trends in the beauty and fashion world through a niche/artisan approach. As the perfume market grows in important markets including the Middle East and BRIC countries, and as companies expand outward, the traditional perfume tastes are affecting the world of perfumery. Thus, these highly coveted and hard-to-find perfume notes are becoming ever so popular. Those boutiques able to offer the most sought after fragrances such as oriental amber, Agarwood (oud), and musk amongst others, along with their striking ambiance, will distinguish them from their competitors.

Customers expect highly trained staff at bespoke perfumery shops to understand the art of fragrances such as the origins and chemical make-ups as they are able to tell a customer why a certain fragrance will or will not work with her/his body chemistry and suggest alternatives. This includes the suitability of a perfume to someone’s skin chemistry and diet.

At specialty perfumery shops such as Madison, with a location in Bucharest and Budapest, fragrance aficionados will find an exclusive array of scents, niche colognes, hard-to-find perfumes, room scents, and incense. The 46 or so brands they carry are not available in traditional department store beauty and cosmetic counters.

The Olfactory Take – in search for something new and singular

Great perfumes are like works of art. They are inspiring, delightful and memorable – despite their staid looking bottles in contrast to those of the designer house perfumes. Perfumes and emotions are also linked together since they impact our mood considerably. They are the new luxury category which is treated as a work of art.

The lesser-known fragrance brands are often touted by celebrities who publicly declare their preference for them, because of the mystique and rarity they possess. Niche labels often use exotic and rare ingredients which make their brand stand out from the rest. The more than two century old Creed Perfumery has a large freestanding store in New York, considered one of a kind in North America, where it sells its own limited produced fragrances.

Small and privately owned fragrance producers are, for the most part, family run – which make them personally involved in all aspects of the productions process. Their uniqueness ranges from fine-quality ingredients stories of pedigree to environment-friendly practices. Such niche brands normally cater to a small, yet extremely loyal clientele. Personalized service, through well trained front line staff, adds to the emotion, as well as the total customer experience demanded by its discerning patrons.

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EXTRA: Beyond Words: Ten Years of Frédéric Malle at Barneys

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Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity

by James D. Roumeliotis

Luxury vs Premium image

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Luxury Brand Management is sometimes like weather forecasting. With the media and fashion industry in full tilt this autumn, there is wave upon wave of adverts, campaigns, and promotions. Within the glitzy magazines and online videos geared to seduce, consumers and even those within the industry have a difficult time distinguishing luxury from premium brands.

Price is not the only determinant. Add the crossover product strategies between the 2 types of brands and there is more confusion still. Luxury enthusiasts are always looking for the “best”. The problem arises on what this term really means if it means anything at all. Most studies indicate that the term “luxury” is highly subjective.

For this reason, I have decided to try to clarify this important topic and booming business sector.

Take for example the terms, “premium”, “luxury” and “fashion”. Is it possible to define and portray these ethereal ideas in concrete terms? Marketing hype blurs the lines, and of course, this is intentional only adding to the misinformation among diverse constituent audiences.

Defining Luxury

Definitions of “luxury” vary enormously and depend on with whom you discuss the topic and in what context. The term “Luxury” has never been something easy to define. It is relative, mysterious and elusive. In essence, it revolves around subjective criteria in the mind, which creates a mood and what is generally referred to today as lifestyle.

Gary Harwood at HKLM, one of the founders and directors of a leading strategic branding and communication design consultancy, stated:

“A luxury brand is very expensive, exclusive and very rare – not meant for everyone. When it ceases to be these things, then it’s lost its exclusive cachet. Commoditizing luxury brands and making them more accessible to the middle market puts them at risk of becoming ordinary, common and less desirable. And the more available a brand is, the less luxurious it becomes.”

Authentic luxury brands compete on the basis of their ability to invoke exclusivity, prestige and hedonism to their appropriate market segments not the masses. There is a classic litmus test:

Is the product manufactured in artificially limited quantities?
(i.e. the rarity factor)

Does the firm have a story to tell? (i.e. history & pedigree)

Is the firm portraying a unique lifestyle?

Is craftsmanship the hallmark, which delivers products that only High Net Worth individuals (HNWI/UHNWI) can purchase without question?

Does the brand offer authenticity?

Identifying Luxury Sectors

Luxury is classically defined in two key segments:

1) Luxury Goods: Fashion & Accessories, Watches & Jewelry,
Well-being & Beauty products

2) Lifestyle Purchases: Automotive, Experiential Travel, Home & Interiors, exclusive alcoholic beverages (read exceptional wines, champagne & spirits)

Brands Which Claim Authentic Luxury Status

Few brands can really claim the trademark of luxury. Those that do combine allure, sex appeal with pedigree and quality. Discounting is not part of their strategy and their entire raison d’être is geared to UHNW (Ultra High Net Worth).

Anyone in this business can rattle off the litany of names recognizable to most people:

Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, Rolex and Cartier.

Other players to this core list include: Bentley, Rolls Royce, Gucci, E. Goyard, Charvet, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Bulgari.

Contrast the above lists with Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz. This firm has reduced its cachet ever since it introduced the entry levels A, B Classes respectively and the SMART car.

The firm also does not hesitate to harness frequent promotions to boost sales revenues. This type of strategy is pursued when the board is under pressure from stakeholders to tap what is referred to as affluent consumers of the mass market. DPI (Disposable Personal Income) of this segment is over $100,000.

Because of this strategy such brands can no longer be considered as “luxury” in the true meaning of the term.

Genuine luxury purveyors should remain relatively small and select in their industry. Wealthy consumers purchase luxury products because they seek to distance themselves from the mass through the emotional value of acquiring flawless and rare objects of desire.

Luxury service brands follow a similar pattern. On the basis of my expertise and experience I would list Hotel de Crillon, Hotel Plaza Athenée, Ritz Carlton, and Hotel du Cap. All these hotels provide the perfect luxury experience of outstanding service, exclusivity, and pedigree.

Identifying department stores is a bit more tricky considering the makeover of this retail concept in the last 15 years. Despite the changes consider the following 3: Harrods (UK), Le Bon Marche (France), and Saks Fifth Avenue (USA).

Exclusive and bespoke travel companies provide tailor made adventures and excursions. The four key players in this category include: Abercrombie & Kent, Kuoni, Orient-Express and Cunard Line.

Broadening our view of luxury services, certain firms offer services and privileges to a rare percentile. Such services include credit cards with no limits, jet ownership, private plan charters, global concierge services and the like. Think NetJets and Amex.

Considering magazines, if I were asked to name one magazine catering to this crowd and speaks its language, I would nominate: Monocle. It has been described in certain circles as “Foreign Policy meets Vanity Fair.”

“Premium” Clarified

If luxury brands are related to scarcity, quality and storytelling then premium goods, on the other hand, are expensive variants of commodities in general: i.e. pay more, get more.

These brands are less ostentatious, more rational, accessible, modern, best in class, sleek design, and manufactured with precision.

For example, take the case of L’Oréal. The firm is a giant in the cosmetics sector. It positions its “premium” products with subtly. Clients get the luxury feel they hanker for and the presentations are done with élan.

Dior on the other hand makes no pretense. It is categorized as a luxury beauty product and is priced accordingly.

What about Fashion?

This is quite a question. Is it luxury, premium or neither? If you were to stroll into Camps de Luca in Paris for a bespoke suit, you will be treated like royalty and the titans of business, who make up the firm’s client base. Afterwards, you can meander over to Place des Victoires and place an order at arguably the best shirtmaker, Charvet and order a dozen shirts cut to your specifications in sea island cotton.

Clearly, these firms are luxury in every meaning of the term.

Designer labels or “fashion houses” are a different kettle of fish. Some can be quite pricey. However the nature of fashion is ephemeral and change. Pick up a copy of September Vogue and judge for yourself.

Do not confuse what you see in Vogue with “haute couture”. This niche is always there and the French keep it this way. Clients are limited by definition of the cost involved, not to mention the intense hand labor, fabric selection, and attention to the tiniest details.

These luxury fashion statements convey ostentation, glamor, lavishness, and elegance. They are one-of-a-kind garment.

The following fashion houses measure their creative worth with the designer talent, which marks the brand: Chanel, Hermes, Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Brioni, Prada, Gucci, Dior, LV, Valentino, YSL, and D&G.

Needless to say, quality control is fundamental and is offered in lifestyle controlled environments at the above brands flagship stores worldwide.

Luxury Time Waits for No One

If you need a watch to tell time, a Timex vintage piece made simply for that purpose will do the job. If you want to make a statement that you have arrived, you will undoubtedly look to see which watch best suits your personality and budget. Think James Bond and the flagrant exposure of Rolex and later Omega.

Luxury timepieces exist in many categories and can accommodate a wide variety of budgets. A good example of an entry level timepiece is a Movado at $500. At the other end of the spectrum, you could chose a Chopard at $70k. Watches are often sold via adverts of sports heroes or movie stars. The reasons are clear. Personification and self-identity play a large role in watch acquisition and social status.

Chronocentric categories watch brands in the following groups:

Basic Luxury Watches
Description: Attractive and functional
Brands include those of fashion designers such as Michael Kors, Fortis, and Movado.

Retail prices: > $1,000 stainless steel; ( >$2,000 for gold)
Strategy: Moderate to heavy discounts available among specialized dealers.

Pseudo Luxury Watches
Description: elegant and stylish
Brands: Baume & Mercier, Raymond Weil, Tag Heuer

Retail prices: $500-$2,000 (steel); $750-$4,000 (gold)
Strategy: discounting via accredited dealerships

Luxury
Description: accent is on prestige. Quality and durability are stressed. Elegance and value underpin the watch.

Brands: Breitling, Cartier, Ebel, Omega, Rolex

Retail prices: $1,000-$4,000 (steel); $2,500-$8,000 (gold with leather strap); $5,000-$20k (gold with gold bracelet)

Strategy: modest discounts sometimes available via brand-authorized dealers. (The unauthorized “gray market” can give bigger price breaks)

High-End Luxury
Highly crafted timepieces made by experts. These watches are highly “refined” and easily recognized by collectors and people “in the know.” Sold with a strong emphasis on exclusivity, design, and craftsmanship. Produced in small numbers, available via specialized dealers. In short, these are the Rolls Royce class of timepieces.

Brands: Alain Silberstein, Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Breguet, Franck Muller, JLC, Parmigiani, Patek Phillipe, Ulysse Nardin, Vacheron Constantin.

Retail prices: starting at $5000 (steel); starting at $20k (gold). Some watches can exceed $2m.

Selection

Watch selection is highly personal. This is true no matter what the person’s budget. Even if you are shopping in a budget category, there are many to chose from. Think Swatch or Nixon.

However, once a person seeks to make a watch statement then choice will be determined by social class, DPI, sports inclinations, sense of self-esteem, pedigree, craftsmanship and of course function. Your average person does not need a chrono watch with its multiple dials and buttons. Yet, the 25-35 year old segment see these pieces as a station in life.

A youngish successful profile will not usually be drawn to a Patek Phillipe. But someone over 40 will. Most Westerners will not go gold unless it is old gold meaning a vintage high end timepiece, which is thin and elegant.

You will also notice that in certain milieus that watch brands count. People weigh there status, revenue generation, prestige in tandem to the watch or even watches that they own and collect. Lastly, even though there are many successful business women who own and wear high-end watches, men seem to be the more obsessed. This can be attributed to the fact that it is one of the few pieces of jewelry a man can wear and not draw too much attention to himself.

Baby You Can Drive My Car

In my other two columns, I tried to clarify the differences between “luxury” and “premium” in the fashion industry and in the horology markets. Similar problems also exist when assessing the automobiles.

It is quite clear to most professionals that luxury cars carry high price tags many of us normal mortals would consider exorbitant. Price aside a luxury car should embody a cache selling prices. Read here: exclusivity, pedigree, craftsmanship and limited production.

R.L. Polk and Company, a global automotive information and marketing firm that provides solutions to automotive and related industries, has re-defined the term with the appellation, “super luxury”, i.e. cars that cost +$100k. This category includes brands such as Rolls Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, Maserati, and until 2013, Maybach, by parent Daimler AG.

Premium cars are defined as those, which offer clients cutting edge design and technology. Their target market are individuals in the upper middle class. Some label these vehicles as such because they have creature comforts with all the bells and whistles.

Cars in this category normally range from an entry level BMW 1 or 3 series (depending on the country) from ~ $30k- +$95k.

Competition for market share in the profitable premium category is fierce amongst rivals BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi, along with their Japanese counterparts Lexus and Infiniti.

Acura and Volvo are not regarded as strong contenders. Instead, they are viewed as part of the compact executive car segment. This category is a combination of the standard class vehicles from the top name brands and top models from automakers not necessarily known as being premium category brands.

Impeccable service is also another important measure for premium automobile brands with a strong emphasis on the total customer experience.

At the same time, we are witnessing aspiring premium brands from deep rooted economy class automobile manufacturers such as Hyundai with their Genesis (including the coupe version) and Equus models. However, compared to their established counterparts, they’re lacking “brand cachet”, thus in their clever marketing, Hyundai is pitching “Smart Luxury & Engineering” as its differentiator.

There had been internal discussions within Hyundai about creating a separate brand to feature the Genesis sedan as well as the imminent Equus sedan in North America, but due to prohibitive costs and potential delays, those models will still remain labeled with the Hyundai brand.

For exotic sports cars such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti and others, Ferrari chairman Luca Cordero Di Montezemolo, explained at a recent FT Business of Luxury Summit:

“I tell my employees listen, be careful, we are not selling a car, we are selling a dream. Because we sell something that is not a typical car, in this rests the emotion of driving.”

Ordering any one of those cars can quote an average wait of 24 months before delivery.

As with the ultra luxury cars, the exotic sports car (limited) producers are now offering their own customization program. Ferrari, for example, offers no limit on imagination to potential buyers who want something different or want to make their Ferrari unique to them.

The Takeaway

The proliferation and marketing misuse of the word “luxury” on many products across sectors is quite evident. Brands either do it out of ignorance or to enhance the desire for the consumer to purchase their products.

Some “premium” products are labeled as “luxury” and promoted that way vigorously. This is where mass brands imitate luxury and its characteristics. As a result, it has caused confusion amongst consumers along with plenty of fancy jargon adding to the perplexity.

Luxury is not premium – and premium is not luxury. They are two dissimilar categories catering to different market segments.

A luxury brand is more about prestige and appearance – it’s about pedigree and social stratification. As objects of desire, they stand out as aspirational to all but a few souls. These crucial elements keep these products exclusive on purpose. Premium, on the other hand, stands for performance, value added, state-of-the-art, craftsmanship, and timeless design.

Certain brands deliberately generate this confusion, while others can’t figure out the messages they want to send to potential clients themselves. Obviously, the wealthy know the difference. Perhaps now, so will you.

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Identifying and Catering to the Discerning Consumer: Quality and Service Above All

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Customer service - white gloves and tray

During my days in the mega yacht charter industry, I recall dealing frequently with assertive clients who were judicious with their expectations and utterly demanding with their occasional extraordinary requests. As a case in point, a VIP couple was cruising on a chartered mega yacht in the Aegean Sea and during one morning, unexpectedly, insisted that an additional stewardess be brought on board to increase the service level. He also requested five cases of Louis Roederer Cristal champagne. Despite the minor challenges, both requests were fulfilled within a few hours. My staff and I arranged for a stewardess to be flown in from Athens to the island where the yacht was docked that particular day. As for the champagne with its limited supply, I couldn’t locate all the quantities from any major purveyor in Athens. Consequently, I secured the remaining cases from Salonika – a city 188 miles (304 km) north of Athens. All five cases were eventually delivered to the yacht on the same day. It goes without saying that the client was elated.

The “discerning”, also referred to as the “discriminating” consumer, is characterized as showing careful judgment and savvy especially in matters of taste and judgment. This person is finicky and possesses an acquired taste habitually for premium products and services. Essentially, he/she falls short of a compromise. Going above and beyond the call of duty to meet and, at times exceed, expectations is an important principal to apply.

James - Looks like me in this photo

An Inside Look at the Discerning Consumer

More often than not, the discerning client typically possesses a high net worth. This translates to owning financial assets not including primary residence) in excess of US$1 million (source: CapGemini, “2014 World Wealth Report”). High net worth individuals (HNWI) cherish their time and know what they want, to such a degree that they would rather spend their funds for efficient results than waste the limited resource of time. They value time as a luxury, thus saving time greatly trumps saving money. This is part of the reason service is crucial for them.

In a nutshell, the discerning client can be generally described as:
– To a greater extent, belongs in the “affluent” (an investor with less than $1 million but more than $100 000) and “HNWI” (in excess of $1 Million) category;
– Seeks a higher and exacting standard with a minimum set of expectations;
– Fussy in nature;
– Values his/her time;
– Often requires customized solutions to mirror his/her lifestyle – whether a product or service;
– Takes pleasure on getting extra attention;
– Expects to be offered unique choices and experiences;
– Desires value for money under all circumstances;
– Synonymous with a taste for luxury with pedigree and craftsmanship which he/she is willing to pay for;
– Aspires an aura of exclusivity;
– Craves an experience heightened by exceptional service along with a personal relationship;
– Seeks products which are different and more sophisticated – whether it’s apparel, electronics, food or insurance.
– Wants to feel in command of his/her purchase decision without any buyer’s remorse.

Moreover, what he/she purchases is a visual extension of his/her personality, individuality and lifestyle. A well crafted product, for example, reflects his/her individual call to beauty.

Discerning vs. Demanding

There is a clear distinction between a “discerning” client and the “demanding” type.
A discerning client is one capable of good judgment. This client will typically:
– Appreciates the difference between quality and quantity;
– Carefully considers what his/her requirements and needs are and be able to prioritize them;
– Value good service and products, and acknowledge them;
– Be able to judge which consultant can be trusted and be relied upon to do great work;
– Understands that there are other clients and other priorities beyond himself/herself and his/her own.

Thus, the discerning client appreciates what is really required and feasible to obtain, understands the concepts of quality and function, and appreciates the value of good products and services.

On the other hand, a demanding client is one that could, in the worst sort of instance, be summed up by the word “demand.” This type of client could typically display one or more “imperfections”, for example:

– Simply wants everything he/she feels he/she wants or needs to be done;
– Wants everything done promptly;
– Persists in making additional requests for further work (products, changes, etc.) while reluctant to consider the issues of impacts on other factors of function, schedule, cost or quality;
– Expects a lot of attention on demand;

Hence, the demanding client expects plenty, regardless of the true value of it, whilst failing to properly appreciate core concepts such as quality and value. Additionally, his/her behavior is typical of someone who is self-centered and selfish.

Catering to the Discerning Client

It takes skill, patience, resolute and a good understanding of needs to cater to discerning customers – most notably in the luxury sector. It takes an even greater effort to keep them coming back repeatedly.

To succeed in gratifying the seemingly sophisticated client, the organization should develop a comprehensive strategy along with efficient implementation tactics. These include:
– Having a clear and unique value proposition that hooks them;
– In retail and hospitality sectors, exploiting the five senses to attract and retain them – categorized as “ambiance”/”sensorial” marketing and branding;
– Staff must be customer centric, patient, empathetic, and good listeners – remaining calm under duress during client interactions;
– Employee retention – hiring for attitude and training for skills;
– Utilizing a hands-on approach;
– Probing clients’ specific needs/requirements – know their motivations;
– Earning their trust and confidence;
– Offering a personal touch – individualized attention with customized solutions;
– Being frank and transparent with pricing, offers, proposals and promotions;
– Proposing an expansive product selection and service options;
– Outstanding and consistent levels of customer service throughout the organization;
– Reducing or eliminating waiting times – whether on the phone (reservations, customer service etc.), as well as for service or an appointment at the physical location;
– Offering customer loyalty programs – a great way to make them feel special and that they’re getting something extra;
– Asking for feedback with regards to service and product experiences and ways to improve those experiences – they’re typically strongly opinionated and relish giving it;
– Implementing the latest technology with all touch points (where applicable).

In addition, keep your brand offerings constantly refreshed. Give discerning customers a reason to repeatedly do business with you. Macy’s in New York, considered the world’s largest department store, underwent through a four year $400 Million makeover. Product is organized by lifestyle to help customers create looks and build wardrobes across categories.

Sell a distinct lifestyle which is what discriminating clients crave and gladly relate to. Be in the forefront of creativity and have all your staff, regardless of department/responsibility, on the same marketing page.

Occasionally, organize exclusive by invitation only events as a patron appreciation gesture. Being invited to an exclusive event makes one feel notable. For example, Italian sports automaker Maserati invited a select number of brand loyalists to a new experience in Europe that gave them the opportunity to sail on-board the 70 ft./21,3 m Maserati sailboat. In addition, they drove models in its current range including the new Maserati Gran Turismo Sport model.

Create/publish an upscale lifestyle magazine, every other month or quarter, which should include noteworthy information on the brand – in an environmentally friendly print format, as well as in digital format. The Bentley motors magazine is a good case in point.

Putting it All into Perspective

Discriminating customers’ purchasing attitudes are based on personal beliefs and taste for finer things in life. They are quite selective, know what they want and aspire to be catered to effortlessly. They seek the total customer experience along with pampering, personalized service and value for money. Some will argue that discriminating customers also consider transacting with companies that demonstrate corporate social responsibility.

A key difference between “discerning” and “demanding” is that the former requires what is important and expects it when it can be reasonably obtained, whilst the latter requires everything regardless of other considerations.

A brand which is involved in the business of offering a luxury and/or premium product or service should be well prepared to cater to a discerning clientele and avoid complacency. As a result, the entity will benefit through repeat business, as well as a word-of-mouth angle, since such customers are likely to tell friends and relatives about their experiences – especially in the world of social media.

____________________________________

Your views are encouraged.

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The Art of Selling Luxury Products: Brand Story Telling & Persuasion

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Recently, I followed a Linkedin luxury sector group thread. Discussion centered on the appropriate manner clients should be treated by sales personnel in a luxury retail shop such as Gucci.

To my astonishment, one participant, posing as an expert stated that sales people at such boutiques should be snooty. The reason given was that this attitude was part of the luxury cachet.

How ludicrous and puerile, I thought.

In my experience, this is precisely what you should not do. Whether you spend $7K on a Rolex or $20K at Hermes all clients should be treated with respect. Period. Aspiration and negative attitude sales pitches are not only counterproductive, they are destructive. (If might add, this should be true of all human interaction and not just the act of buying luxury products.)

Does Luxury Really Have Meaning?

Luxury was never about price. This is an outdated concept built on a social model which is incompatible with democratic values. It is about brands, which are authentic. Authenticity implies function, design, intrinsic value, and in certain cases heritage and pedigree.

Luxury must provide the right experience.

Sophisticated customers want the wow factor.

This means touching the heart and dazzling the senses. When done in this manner, the client feels their lifestyle enhanced. Yes, I know, like you do that a product is just a thing. However, things act as a trigger and can alter perception, inner balance and outer harmony.

Look at the keys to luxury brand management and you will recognize the essentials in selling aspiration:

1) Self expression and sense of self
2) Exceptional treatment and experience when in the act of purchase
3) Craftsmanship=Quality
4) Authenticity
5) The Rarity Factor
6) Emotional Bonding
7) Mystique

To achieve these elements the brand must be expert story tellers. One of the grand story telling kings, Ralph Lauren, understands this like the lines on his hand.

Exceeding Expectations

Luxury goods are not sold the same way as with mainstream products. It’s not enough to simply introduce and sell a luxury brand surrounded by a fancy store with design inspired display cases either. Consumers of luxury brands tend to have higher expectations than that of traditional consumers. They are discerning and sensitive to questionable tactics, as well as intolerant when comes to aggressive sales people.

The attitude, product knowledge and overall delivery/presentation of the product by the sales consultant/brand ambassador all play an equally important role. This translates to a well-educated, skilled staff having good communication skills, a high level of presentation skills, and a customer centric approach.

A study by The Luxury Institute, in New York, finds that Burberry and Bottega Veneta excel far better in CRM (Customer Relationship Management) than other companies. Their key findings were under the title:

“Leading Edge Insights Into The World Of The Wealthy”

Sales associates should be employed from related luxury brands and products, with consideration given to those in the service sector such as hospitality or premium airlines: Singapore Airlines, Swiss Airlines, Emirates and others — or perhaps from premium apparel brands and high end cosmetic brands. One thing is certain: Training ought to be based on specific brand requirements.

As more luxury brands open their own retail outlets to stand apart, they need to better control sales channels, image, and front line personnel.

One cannot stress enough for Sales teams to have the right training.
For new sales hires not familiar with selling luxury brands, a company has to invest to train them and ensure occasional retraining including recap courses. Luxury sales training should include:
– In-depth product knowledge – specifically how it will help satisfy the customer’s needs;
– Focus on the customer – who they are, what they like/dislike, determine needs, motivations and preferences;
– Exceed customer expectations by delighting and surprising;
– Appeal to client emotions;
– Never put down the competition.

Ultimately, craftsmanship, design innovation, exclusivity, and pedigree sell themselves. Correct sales attitudes should personify the luxury branded products and it becomes in the client’s eyes a done deal.

Selling, or Rather, Storytelling with Product Knowledge and Finesse

Consumers today are sophisticated when it comes to shopping – thanks primarily to the internet where information on just about any product can be researched and used for comparison purposes. Consequently, when a prospective client walks into a store, he/she is armed with knowledge – which is why the sales professional should be product proficient and adept at assisting and guiding the client to the purchase making use of flattery, romance and showmanship. Charisma is an asset.

To illustrate, if a sales consultant, wearing a pristine white pair of gloves is presenting, for instance, a Chopard watch, he/she will utilize terms with finesse and avoid using language which discusses a specific price tag. In its place, the word “value” can be used. Instead of calling the product an obvious “watch”, the sales consultant can say, “timepiece”, “masterpiece” or simply pronounce the model name. It should then be demonstrated in a dazzling manner emphasizing its innate qualities and timeless design with functionality – amongst other features that focus on one’s sentiments.

When selling a niche automobile such as a Porsche, the sales professional can talk about racetracks, describe road-holding capabilities, build-up a fascinating story – after which time he/she can bring-up reliability and the technical details which confirm to the discerning client what he/she is already aware of.

Hiring Selection Process: Who Should Make the Cut?

When seeking to hire sales consultants, there should be a set criteria established to ensure a successful performance. The people selected for the end-user contact should have the following characteristics:

1) Retail sales experience in a luxury environment;

2) Empathetic: expertise in establishing customer relationships which translate into sales;

3) Image: proper attire and fashion accessories, verbal communication and grooming. Clients should see the brand made manifest so it has a personal connect;

4) Skilled at the emotional aspects of a sale: bond with customers so that relationship leverage is genuine;

5) Passionate and Professional Mind-set;

6) Highly collaborative: knows how to work with and through others in a team-based environments;

7) Entrepreneurial, competitive, self confident, and self-motivated.

Discounted Luxury is an Oxymoron

Under no circumstances should luxury brands be discounted. They need to stick to their true sense of the meaning and heritage. By cutting prices, brands risk changing the quality-price relationship in the customer’s mind. This practice normally stems from sales consultants, who may not be convinced that the particular luxury goods offered for sale actually merit the price.

Such an attitude can be tricky to navigate effectively. Customers need to believe otherwise they question and the product is devalued in their eyes. Sales people, who are not up to this aspect of brand personification should not b e hired.

Price discounts should be a tactic of last resort.

A robust alternative is to offer a gift items or bonuses such as complimentary tickets to Art exhibitions, gift certificates or access to a coveted local restaurant.

Employ Mystery Shoppers

In the retail brand experience, nothing should be taken for granted. In a progressive customer driven entity, training and developing the human assets should be an ongoing process. Moreover, brands should be an enemy of the status quo.

Hiring mystery shoppers to gauge the total sales cycle approach and report back their experience to management should not be ignored.

Another suggestion is for the luxury boutique owners to hire a third party such as a consultancy firm, which specializes in the high-end retail domain, to shadow the sales consultants and evaluate their performance.

Both techniques need to be conducted with frequency. How can you understand the client expect by acting and gauging behavior in the field? You can’t.

The Final Take

Remember, a luxury sales professional does not pressure customers to buy.

He/She plays the role of a luxury purveyor and advisor – someone who is an expert product consultant, and keeps a client’s best interests at heart. By demonstrating value, a sales consultant establishes himself/herself as a professional.

It’s about establishing a person-to-person relationship as opposed to a salesperson-to-customer relationship.

In today’s economy, service has become a core competitive advantage. Hiring the right people and training them to sell properly, increase sales and retain the brand’s luster should all be part of its on-going ambitions.

Sophisticated customers want products that dazzle their senses, touch their hearts and stimulate their minds – which they can relate to and can incorporate into their lifestyles. The degree to which a luxury product is able to deliver a desirable customer experience is vital.

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Filed under Branding, Business, Luxury, luxury storytelling, Marketing, selling luxury